CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR is confident Ryan Newman and his Penske Racing South team have not cheated while racking up a series-high eight victories this season.
There's been grumbling the past week or so about Newman, who has been able to stretch his fuel much longer than the rest of his competitors in several victories.
"I don't care what the other drivers are saying, we feel very comfortable they are not cheating," Winston Cup director John Darby said Saturday. "We just kind of sit back and chuckle at all the accusations."
Newman started first in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Saturday night, his series-best eighth pole of the season.
If the No. 12 Dodge team was cheating, it would have to get its practices by Darby and his team of inspectors. But Darby said the post-race inspection process was increased in April to include a thorough tear-down of the fuel cells.
If crew chief Matt Borland was trying something radical, Darby said NASCAR would have caught it during any of the inspections after his victories.
He also said the complaints have been limited to the drivers, and not the crews.
"The crew chiefs are not afraid to speak openly about these things and if they thought there was cheating, I would have a line of them out the door," he said. "Instead, they realize they just got beat because they all stand in inspection and see the parts and pieces coming off the No. 12 and know there's nothing illegal there."
NO. 3 BACK ON TRACK: The No. 3 Chevrolet was back on the track for the first time since Dale Earnhardt's 2001 death when Richard Childress drove a replica of it during pre-race parade laps.
Childress, the car owner for six of Earnhardt's seven Winston Cup titles, wiped away tears as he waited for the command to start his engine. He gave a thumbs-up sign before beginning the laps, which were part of NASCAR's "Victory Lap" tribute to longtime series sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Flashbulbs popped and fans stood while flashing three fingers each time the car passed, and Childress closed the brief tribute with a long burnout along the frontstretch.
ELECTRIC KARMA?: Actress Carmen Electra attended her first NASCAR race Saturday night, serving as the grand marshal at Lowe's.
Her appearance drew laughter at the pre-race driver meeting, when race director David Hoots accidentally introduced her as "Electra Carmen."
Electra drew crowds at every stop during her visit, making her way through the garage, pit road and taking time to meet several drivers.
"I've watched races on TV, but just being here in person is so amazing," she said. "I was back where the cars are and the revving of the engines, I could just feel it. It was so loud and so cool."
PIT STOPS: Childress said he's close to picking a driver to replace Steve Park in the No. 30 Chevrolet. Ward Burton was on Childress' list, but instead signed with Haas CNC Racing for the No. 0 Pontiac. ... PPI Motorsports has extended its contracts with driver Ricky Craven and primary sponsor Tide through the 2006 season. ... Reed Sorenson, a 17-year-old driver under contract with Chip Ganassi Racing, won the 2003 American Speed Association's Rookie of the Year. David Stremme, another of Ganassi's developmental drivers, is in the running for top rookie honors in the Busch Series. Jamie McMurray is on pace to win the award in the Winston Cup series.
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